Hoxton museum plans to move statue of slave trader following protests

Museum of the Home Entrance, with the statue above the entrance. Pic: Chang Yisheng

The statue of a slave ship owner that adorns the entrance to a Hoxton museum is expected to be moved to a less prominent on-site location after a local campaign.

The statue of Robert Geffrye stands above the entrance to the Museum of the Home, located in Hoxton. Geffrye was an English merchant in the 17th century and Lord Mayor of London. He made part of his fortune as a slave trader and part-owned a slave ship called the China Merchant.

Geffrye has no links to the actual museum, which is housed in a former poorhouse he built on the site in 1714. London City Council took over the site in 1911 and opened the Geffrye Museum in 1914, which changed its name two years ago.

Local campaigners in east London and beyond have advocated for the removal of the statue following Black Lives Matter protests last year.

Due to the building’s Grade I status, the statue cannot be removed without planning permission.

Hackney Stand Up to Racism, Islington Stand Up to Racism and other organisations have called for a boycott of the museum until it removes the statue.

Museum of the Home said in a statement that it “strives to be a welcoming place for all” but the statue of Robert Geffrye “does not promote the sense of belonging that is so important for our visitors, and fundamental to the Museum’s values”.

They said: “We believe there is potential to retain the statue on site but in an alternative and less prominent space, where we can better tell the full story of the history of the buildings and Robert Geffrye’s life, including his involvement in transatlantic slavery.”

Robert Geffrye statue. Pic: David Rogers

The museum was formerly known as the Geffrye Museum until 2019 following a £18.1 million redevelopment. The purpose behind the change was to create a name that would better reflect the purpose of the museum.

MP Diane Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, who supports the removal of the statue, congratulated the campaigners on the update. Her office provided Eastlondonlines with this statement:

“Museums should be places of learning about our history, among other things. Removing the statue provides an opportunity to highlight and learn from this shameful period of British history rather than valorise slave traders.”

Sasha Simic, Hackney resident and member of Hackney Stand Up to Racism, told ELL that the group welcomes the recent statement by the museum, but does not think it goes far enough:

“Generations of children who visited that museum have been told about his great philanthropy without being told the history of how he made his money.” 

He said he sees “a massive contradiction” between the museum celebrating the multi-cultural fabric of both Hackney and London while “having the statue of a slaver right above it”. 

“Without the statue there, their work would be very welcomed,” he said.

The campaigners will continue with boycotting efforts and are hoping to gain endorsements from each of the borough’s education unions. The Islington and Hackney National Education Unions have already endorsed the campaign.

“Until it comes down, we will still protest,” Simic said.

Last year, the museum partnered with Hackney Council to run a public opinion consultation on the removal of the statue. Over 70% of the 2,187 respondents voted to take the statue down.

Oliver Dowden, culture secretary at the time, said in a letter sent last autumn “the Government does not support the removal of statues or other similar objects”. “Publicly funded bodies…should not be taking actions motivated by activism or politics.”

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